Ask an expert - body - skin conditions - connective tissue

3 questions

A: There are a number of studies of the use of acupuncture for treating Raynauds, such as:
  
and
  
which are also included in our factsheet

 http://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/raynauds.html

but as we conclude there, the evidence is not really conclusive enough to give any guarantee that acupuncture would be of benefit.
 
However, Chinese medicine looks at the functioning of the body in entirely different ways from orthodox medicine, and the theories, which are based on the flolw of energy called 'qi' in the body, can often provide treatment strategies where western medicine has nothing to offer. This is not to claim acupuncture will succeed where orthodox medicine failed; many conditions are just as difficult to treat in the eastern paradigm as they are are in the western one. The different understanding of human physiology and the different techniques often provide alternative approaches where western medicine has run out of options, and Raynauds Syndrome is a condition whose intractability means that sufferers are often left with few options.

In particular, an acupuncturist might focus on the parts of the system which are understood in Chinese medicine to be responsible for ensuring that energy is properly distributed to the extremities. Some of these Organs (capitalised to differentiate the concept from that of a western organ) have a number of wide ranging functions, and if one aspect is failing there should be evidence of poor performance in other functions which confirm what is going on. The taking the pulse at the wrist and looking at the tongue can also provide evidence of how different parts of the system function and inter-relate. After taking a look at how the whole system is functioning a practitioner will have a clear idea of whether there is a functional dusturbance in the whole system or local blockage, and treat accordingly. Whatever he or she finds will be unique to you; the very great strength of Chinese medicine is that it treats patients, not simply conditions, and finding out why you in particular have this problem is an essential part of trying to solve it. 

 Our best advice is to contact a BAcC member local to you and seek their advice face to face in whether they can help with the Raynauds as it manifests in your system. We are confident that they will give you an honest assessmenmt of whether acupuncture would be of benefit to you. 


 

This question is difficult to answer succinctly because it is very broad in scope. There are many different forms of connective tissue disorders, many of which are linked to auto-immune problems, and such research as does exist is very patchy. There is no broad-ranging research into connective tissue disorders and acupuncture treatment because this would go against the grain of conventional research which aims to narrow the field of variables to a minimum.
 
We have from time to time had questions on specific connective tissue disorders, and here, for example, is what we replied when asked about Ehlers Danlos syndrome:
 

Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome is one of a number of genetic connective tissue disorders which manifest in a wide array of symptoms and as congenital degenerative conditions are not likely to change or improve. In these circumstances the best that one could hope to achieve with acupuncture would be to relieve some of the symptoms which are manifesting your particular case, and perhaps to slow down the progressive deterioration.

 

There have been attempts to use acupuncture as part of a package of measures to help people deal with the condition, but no research on the use of acupuncture with conventional treatment in contrast to conventional treatment alone which would allow us to make specfic claims. From a Chinese medicine perspective, however, there are a number of ways in which treatment is pitched at systemic problems rather than unique symptoms themselves, and sometimes ways of making sense of a collection of disparate symptoms in a way which Western medicine might not recognise. There may well be some merit in asking the advice of a practitioner local to you about whether the way in which EDS presents in your particular case makes sense from a different medical perspective.

 

One caution for possible treatment, however, would be the tendency to bruise and the effect on wound healing. Acupuncture is a remarkably gentle treatment, with especially fine needles being used at relatively shallow levels, and only in severe cases of blood thinning through illness and medication is it contra-indicated. Any practitioner worth their salt will always treat conservatively in cases like yours to gauge how well the body responds to the physical process of treatment.

 
In reviewing this answer several months on we would perhaps now emphasise the fact that traditional Chinese acupuncture treatment aims to address the system as a whole, and can on occasion offer possibilities for treatment, based on the concepts of Chinese medicine of the flow of energy and its balance, which would not make a great deal of sense within conventional medical thought. It is far from being a universal panacea, though; as we said above, the best one can often hope for in these situations is some relief from the symptoms. Anyone promising more than this should be treated with suspicion.
 
You may find it worthwhile to have a short chat with a BAcC near you to seek their advice on whether the specific presentation of connective tissue order about which you are concerned may be amenable to treatment.  
 
 
 

As you are no doubt already well aware, this is a relatively rare condition, and usually presents as a symptom of a number of auto-immune or connective tissue disorders. It is true to say, though, that much is still unknown about the problem.
 
From a traditional Chinese medicine perspective, where the diagnostic process takes signs and symptoms and assesses them against an entirely different conceptual framework, there may be ways of interpreting how the condition manifests, and should this be the case, there may be some possibility of treating it. Even were this not to be the case, the earliest forms of Chinese medicine tended to be less symptom driven and more concerned with the balance of the system as a whole. Clearly, if this condition manifests as a sign of a widespread problem as seen in Western terms, then an overall perspective such as that applied by the more constitutional forms of acupuncture may be equally appropriate.
 
It is important to point out, however, that there is no research of any kind which suggests that acupuncture treatment may be effective, partly we are sure, because of the rarity of the condition and the problems of assembling enough people to make a trial worthwhile. If you did decide to consider treatment it would be best to seek a brief face to face discussion with a BAcC member local to you for them to give you a clearer assessment of whether your particular presentation might be amenable to treatment. If you go ahead, we would recommend that you set very clear outcome measures and review periods to ensure that you can assess whether it is worth continuing.
 
We often advise enquirers with skin problems to consider Chinese Herbal medicine as well as, or even instead of, acupuncture. Fortunately many of our members are dual qualified, and if you check the RCHM (Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine) register you may find that someone local to you is also a BAcC member. Chinese herbal medicine has built up quite a solid reputation for addressing skin problems, and we believe that there is something about the precise formulae created and the daily treatment regime which seems to work with long term skin problems. Ideally your practitioner could combine the best of both forms of treatment, should you both agree that this is worth trying. 

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